Bad weather + hordes of passengers = Messy Thanksgiving travel

Posted at 6:49 AM, Nov 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-27 08:51:20-05

By Ben Brumfield

(CNN) — A massive nor’easter pummeled the eastern United States on Wednesday, complicating holiday travel plans for many of the 43 million Americans who filled the nation’s highways, airports, and train and bus stations.

By morning, delays were reported at airports in Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

Snow blanketed parts of the Midwest, where crews scrambled to clear roads. The storm was blamed for scores of accidents.

Up to a foot of snow was expected in parts of western New York and Pennsylvania.

The storm bumped more than 6,000 flights off schedule and forced 271 cancellations Tuesday. Early Wednesday, another 95 flights were canceled.

“I was very happy I booked the day I did,” passenger Harold Rothman said. “Because if I booked tomorrow, I’d probably be delayed.”

On Tuesday, low clouds and heavy rain delayed one in three flights — 678 in all — from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the nation’s busiest. On average, passengers were delayed nearly an hour.

New York and Washington had delays Tuesday that were expected to worsen Wednesday with the nor’easter.

“Let’s face it: With 80% of our airplanes touching the congested Northeast, we’re acutely aware that things can go wrong relatively quickly,” JetBlue COO Rob Maruster told CNN affiliate WCBS in New York.

If flight delays and cancellations pile up, they could cause a chain reaction throughout the country, as connecting flights outside the Northeast wait for arrivals from the stormy region.


Going to the Northeast and want to avoid the mess? Take the train. Amtrak has reported no delays.

Using the weather as a marketing tool, the nation’s rail system is running a Thanksgiving special and adding seats on some routes.

“Rail travel remains one of the most reliable and comfortable transportation options, especially in weather conditions that negatively impact other modes,” Amtrak said.

There may be something to that.

“QUIET CAR. Window seat. Polite seatmate. I have hit the Amtrak travel trifecta. #blessed,” Ellie Hall tweeted early Wednesday.


Road conditions were not great in much of the Northeast.

“It’s sleet; it’s rain; it’s 31 degrees. It’s ugly out there,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

He expected large parts of Pennsylvania and beyond to freeze early Wednesday. That should make for dangerous road conditions.

Last week, 12 people died, most of them in car crashes, when one of the fronts making up the current storm iced roads from the Rockies to Texas and Oklahoma. More than 100 vehicles ended up in wrecks.

“I get on the highway, and the next thing I know I’m spinning,” said Seqret Watson, among the dozens of drivers in Northwest Arkansas sent sliding when their cars hit icy bridges and roads.

“I try to grab my wheel and then I just hit the wall. Just jumped out to make sure my kids were OK,” Watson told affiliate KFSM.

The Peterson family planned to drive from Northern Virginia to Massachusetts. But after seeing the forecast, they booked seats on a flight at the last minute.

“It was a small fortune,” Jennifer Peterson told CNN affiliate WUSA. “We could’ve gone to the Bahamas for what we paid!”

CNN’s Tom Watkins and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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